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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Another Wrinkle in the EV Race – To Address Semiconductor Shortage, Let’s Begin at the Beginning

    Over the past few weeks, we dove into the materials challenges associated with the accelerating EV revolution, outlining that while general awareness of immense mineral intensity of the green energy transition is growing, misconceptions in terms of how to address the challenge persist, with too many still subscribing to the notion that we can recycle, substitute and “friend-shore” our way out of the conundrum.

    Meanwhile, remarks by U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo made in late November point to another wrinkle in the U.S. push to catch up in and ultimately win the EV race.  Commenting in the context of a push to shore up support for the congressional “Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) for America Act,” legislation aimed at taking on China, Sec. Raimondo told the Detroit Economic Club, a nonprofit business group, that automakers ambitious EV plans are threatened by the ongoing semiconductor shortage.

    “As companies like Ford and GM compete to grab a foothold in the electric vehicle market, we know that innovation in the American battery market will be stifled if we aren’t also investing in domestic semiconductor innovation at the same time,” she said.

    Sec. Raimondo had also told Detroit News before the Detroit Economic Club event that the Biden Administration’s plans for 50% of all vehicle sales to be electric by 2030 depends U.S investment in semiconductor production, stating that “[i]f we’re serious about restoring American leadership in the global economy, we have to start by rebuilding our semiconductor industry so we can meet the demands of this moment.”

    As followers of ARPN know, supply chains for these highly specialized high-tech components are extremely complex, and, as outlined in the White House 100-Day Supply Chain Report, require “hundreds of essential inputs, many of which are raw materials, chemicals and gases. These materials have their own complex supply chains, and likely contain hidden choke points that could disrupt production.”

    In light of these complexities, while it’s great to see the Biden Administration focused on the issue, the same caveats that apply for critical mineral resource supply chains apply with regards to semiconductors.

    As ARPN’s Daniel McGroarty pointed out last year against the backdrop of excitement over the recent announcement of Arizona as the site for Taiwan Semiconductor’s new next-gen semiconductor factory to manufacture their new 5-nanometer (5nm) chips: “the first word in supply chain is ‘supply.’”

    And while the Biden Administration plans to “bolster its partnership with the private sector in domestic semiconductor manufacturing and R&D,” and “strengthen engagement with allies and partners to promote fair semiconductor chip allocations, increase production, and promote increased investment,” stakeholders must begin at the beginning – the sourcing of the metals and minerals that go into the manufacture of semiconductors, like Gallium and Indium — and incorporate strategies to promote the domestic development of these materials into their overall approach.

    Thankfully, the U.S. is not only in the fortunate position to have known resources for both Gallium and Indium (in Texas and Alaska, respectively), both metals can also be “unlocked” in the “co-product” development of their Gateway Metals Aluminum (for Gallium) and Zinc and Tin (Indium) — another reason stakeholders should focus more on the inter-relationship between Gateway Metals and the critical co-products they unlock.

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  • Two For Four — New Critical Minerals Draft List Includes Two of Four Metals Recommended For Inclusion by ARPN in 2018

    With the addition of 15 metals and minerals bringing the total number up to 50, this year’s draft updated Critical Minerals List, for which USGS just solicited public comment, is significantly longer than its predecessor.

    This, as USGS notes, is largely the result of “splitting the rare earth elements and platinum group elements into individual entries rather than including them as mineral groups” – as we argued in our last post, a welcome development likely to “encourage policymakers to understand that Rare Earth and PGM deposits can and will differ in the degree to which they afford access to the full range of these key materials.”

    Perhaps even more interesting, however, is the addition of Nickel and Zinc, which, as followers of ARPN may recall, puts us at two for four:

    In a statement submitted during the official comment period leading up to the release of the final 2018 Critical Minerals List, ARPN’s Daniel McGroarty had called for adding Copper, Zinc, Nickel and Lead to the List.

    Reviewing several scenarios outlined in the Reconfiguration of the National Defense Stockpile Report to Congress from 2009, McGroarty concluded these four metals/minerals should be added based on relevant defense criteria — and, in the case of Copper, Zinc and Nickel, based on their Gateway Metal status.

    Arguing that the 2018 draft list did not convey the “relationships of various metals and minerals,” and most importantly the fact that many of them “are not mined in their own right, but obtained as ‘co-products’ of primary mining,”McGroarty pointed to the fact that Copper, Nickel, Zinc and Lead offered access to seven unique minerals deemed critical on the list, with Copper being the most versatile, since it “unlocks” five potential co-products included in the 2018 List, and submitted a graphic underscoring his point.

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    The U.S. Government was unmoved, making no changes to the List.

    Nickel’s star has since risen.

    Against the backdrop of the accelerating battery arms race, the Biden Administration, in its 100-Day Supply Chain review report released in June, acknowledged Nickel’s Critical Mineral status, noting that

    “In contrast to cobalt, nickel content per battery will increase in the coming years, as R&D focused on high-nickel in cathodes has shown significant and accelerated commercial adoption. The potential shortfall from this increase in demand poses a supply chain risk for battery manufacturing globally, not just in the United States; given the pervasive need, the established nickel industry is ramping up production and processing, and the United States is falling further behind China in this critical material.”

    The Department of Energy-led chapter of the 100 Day Report further concluded that “If there are opportunities for the US to target one part of the battery supply chain, this would likely be the most critical to provide short- and medium-term supply chain stability,” noting the urgent need to develop a strategic framework for securing Class 1 nickel. As we commented at the time, no other “non-Critical” received more mentions in the White House report than Nickel.

    Add in the fact that Nickel provides Gateway access to Cobalt and the PGMs, and the case for including Nickel into the 2021 Critical Minerals list just got even more compelling.

    Zinc, primarily used in metallurgical applications, is also a Gateway metal, yielding access to “Criticals” Indium and Germanium, is also seeing greater application in green energy technology, and, according to Mining Weekly the “increasing concentration of global mine and smelter production and the continued refinement, as well as the development, of the quantitative evaluation criteria” put zinc above the threshold for inclusion.

    If Nickel and Zinc are ARPN’s two “hits,” we still stand by our two remaining “misses:”  Copper and Lead.

    Less flashy than some of its tech metal peers, Copper’s traditional uses, new applications and Gateway Metal status make it highly versatile.

    Copper is an irreplaceable component for advanced energy technology, ranging from EVs over wind turbines and solar panels to the electric grid.   The manufacturing process for EVs requires four times more Copper than gas powered vehicles, and the expansion of electricity networks will lead to more than doubled Copper demand for grid lines, according to the IEA.

    Add in Copper’s Gateway Metal status and a 2019 mining executive’s projection that “[t]he world will need the same amount of copper over the next 25 years that it has produced in the past 500 years if it is to meet global demand.”  The just-passed federal infrastructure package and recent announcements of new EV goals and fuel efficiency standards — will only add to the outlined Copper demand scenarios.

    Meanwhile, Lead continues to be a key ingredient in battery technology, with the lead-acid battery industry accounting for about 92% of reported U.S. lead consumption during 2020. On the Co-Product front, Lead is Gateway to two “Criticals,” Arsenic and Bismuth.

    While the rationale for including Copper (and to a lesser extent Lead) into the latest iteration of the U.S. Government’s Critical Minerals List remains strong, and is perhaps, in the case of Copper, stronger than ever, we choose to see the glass as half-full, and are encouraged by the inclusion of Nickel and Zinc — testament to the fact that policy makers and other stakeholders are increasingly acknowledging the challenges associated with providing reliable supplies of the Critical Minerals underpinning our “Tech Metal Era.”

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  • “Supply Chain” Begins With “Supply:” Department of Commerce 100-Day Report Chapter on Complex Semiconductor Supply Chain

    Current news coverage may have you believe that when it comes to critical minerals, all we’re talking about is Rare Earths and battery tech metals, such as Lithium, Cobalt, Manganese, Nickel and Graphite. However, while certainly extremely important for 21st Century technology, these materials and the sectors in which they find key applications only represent [...]
  • DoD Chapter of 100-Day Supply Chain Report Acknowledges Gateway/Co-product Challenge

    Friends of ARPN will know that “much of our work is grounded in a conviction that the Technology Age is driven by a revolution in materials science – a rapidly accelerating effort that is unlocking the potential of scores of metals and minerals long known but seldom utilized in our tools and technologies.” In this [...]
  • Canada’s Just-Released List of 31 Critical Minerals Includes Key Gateway Metals

    As demand for critical minerals is increasing in the context of the global shift towards a green energy future, Canada’s Minister of Resources Seamus O’Regan Jr. earlier this week announced the release of a Canadian list of 31 metals and minerals deemed critical “for the sustainable economic success of Canada and our allies—minerals that can [...]
  • Materials Science Revolution Continues to Yield Breakthroughs – a Look at Scandium

    Did you turn on the TV to watch the SpaceX Crew Dragon take off en route to the International Space Station yesterday only to be disappointed?  The long-awaited historic first launch of American astronauts from U.S. soil in nearly nine years has been postponed due to weather, but there’s a still good chance we will [...]
  • ARPN’s McGroarty for The Hill: Strength through Peace – Dropping Sec. 232 Tariffs on Aluminum and Steel Could Strengthen U.S. Position vis-a-vis China

    In a new piece for The Hill, ARPN’s Dan McGroarty zeroes in on the inter-relationship of trade and resource policy, which has been an increasingly recurring theme over the past few months. McGroarty argues that the removal of U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum coming from Mexico and Canada, which have been a “dead weight on [...]
  • Aluminum and the Intersection of Trade and Resource Policy: U.S. Senator Discusses Need to Remove Sec. 232 Tariffs

    In an interview with Fox and Friends, U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R, Iowa) discusses the path to what he terms a major trade victory for the U.S.  In order for this to happen, he believes removing the Sec. 232 tariffs from the USMCA, the new and yet-to-be-ratified U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal to replace NAFTA struck in [...]
  • Sustainable Sourcing to Support Green Energy Shift – A Look at Copper

    Followers of ARPN will know that Copper is more than just an old school mainstay industrial metal.   We’ve long touted its versatility, stemming from its traditional uses, new applications and Gateway Metal status. Courtesy of the ongoing materials science revolution, scientists are constantly discovering new uses – with the latest case in point being [...]
  • 2019 New Year’s Resolutions for Mineral Resource Policy Reform

    Out with the old, in with the new, they say. It‘s new year‘s resolutions time.  With the end of 2017 having set the stage for potentially meaningful reform in mineral resource policy, we outlined a set of suggested resolutions for stakeholders for 2018 in January of last year.  And while several important steps  were taken [...]

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